One Year Later, SOPA/PIPA Supporters Still Completely Ignore The Public

from the incredible dept

On this Internet Freedom Day, Declan McCullagh has a great post in which he reached out to the key politicians and lobbyists who supported SOPA and PIPA last year to see what they had to say one year later. The quotes are really incredible in their tone deafness to what happened. All of them -- smartly -- are about looking forward, rather than looking back, but none of them mention the public or doing what's best for the public. A bunch of them set up the false dichotomy of "Hollywood" vs. "Silicon Valley" as if this was all a giant commercial dispute. The others all speak of it in commercial terms. Incredibly, despite millions of individuals speaking up for our rights, not a single person interviewed by McCullagh seems to even think it's worth mentioning.

Let's take a look at some of the statements.
The problem of Internet piracy and the sale of counterfeit products online has not gone away. Senator Leahy continues to monitor law enforcement actions, significant developments in the courts and voluntary industry practices, and all those pieces will help determine what next steps are appropriate.
— spokeswoman for Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee and author of the Protect IP Act
Well, first problem: the continued conflation of internet copyright infringement with the sale of counterfeit products. These are two very, very different issues with very different causes that require very different approaches to dealing with them. Yet, Leahy and others have used this conflation to dangerous ends with bills like PIPA. What they do is take the widespread nature of copyright infringement and mix it with the very very very small, but still real, possibility of serious harm from some very specific cases of product counterfeiting (i.e., drugs and military equipment) -- and then try to create broad "solutions" that have massive unintended consequences impacting individual freedoms like freedom of speech. If both of those things are "problems" then lets have real discussions about them individually. The second you mix them together, you know that something bad will come out of it.
We can all agree about the importance of protecting American innovation from foreign thieves, but I think it is critical that all parties have a seat at the table and work together to solve important policy issues. As chairman of the Judiciary committee, I look forward to working with both the technology and content communities to find ways to protect America's competitive advantage while promoting internet freedom and growth.
— Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia), chairman of the House Judiciary committee and original sponsor of SOPA
First of all, you don't "steal" innovation. Innovation is a process. But, even beyond that, when he talks about "all parties" having "a seat at the table" and working together, notice that he doesn't mention the public at all. It's just "technology and content communities." That was a big part of the problem in the first place and it's disappointing that Goodlatte is still pushing this silly line. This was never "tech vs. content." This was about the public and forward-looking organizations who want to keep the internet free and open -- and legacy players (in both the content and tech industries, by the way) who were looking to lock down and control new systems in a weak attempt to protect increasingly obsolete business models. Bringing "tech" and "content" to the table and thinking those are the two sides in this fight isn't just mistaken, it gets the whole basis of this dispute wrong and will inevitably lead to more problems. Out of that comes bogus "solutions" like the six strikes agreements, which again completely left the public out in the cold.

Goodlatte is now the head of the House Judiciary Committee. He's always presented himself as a friend to Silicon Valley (and reminds us over and over and over again that his son works at Facebook). If he wants to do a better job than his predecessor, he needs to get past the artificial divides like "tech" vs. "content" and start looking at the real issues: the public and innovators vs. legacy players. Those cut across both lines. There are legacy tech players looking to hold back innovation, just as there are innovative, public-embracing content players.
Hollywood and Silicon Valley have more in common than most people realize. We share a commitment to innovation, to our consumers, and are working together to develop new platforms to make that content easily and legally accessible. Like the tech industry, the well-being of the film community is dependent on a vibrant First Amendment and we would never support any legislation that limits this fundamental right. We can all agree no one wins if everyone loses. Preserving freedom of speech and protecting intellectual property rights are not mutually exclusive efforts. Intellectual property protection is essential to creators and makers in both industries and we need to discuss it rationally. Let's use this anniversary to forge a path toward the future where the creative content and technology industries work together to develop meaningful solutions that ensure an Internet that works for everyone.
— Michael O'Leary, senior executive vice president for global policy and external affairs at the Motion Picture Association of America
We agree on the first half, but as is so often the case, O'Leary states the first half to basically try to avoid the obvious criticism of the second half. He states that the MPAA would never support legislation that limits the First Amendment, but he's done exactly that. Preserving freedom of speech and protecting "intellectual property" may not be mutually exclusive, but they absolutely can conflict, and frequently do conflict. The MPAA has refused to even acknowledge this possibility.

From there, the statement gets more and more problematic. We've seen over and over again that, while many creators and tech companies do use copyright, patents and trademarks, they are hardly "essential". Again, by simplifying this to "tech" vs. "content" it's easy for O'Leary to point to legacy tech companies who lean hard on copyright or patents, and then suggest that both "sides" want greater protectionism. But that's misleading. As discussed above, much of this is really about legacy players trying to block innovators who are looking to benefit the public. You can easily line up a bunch of legacy players on both the tech and content sides who will agree until the end of time about the values of protectionism -- just as you could line up true innovators in both areas who say that patents, copyright and trademark are of little value and are mostly a distraction.
It's a new day for a new music business and for the RIAA. For the better part of the last year, we have focused on being an evangelist for the dynamic, exciting legal online marketplace that now exists for fans. That will continue to be our priority in 2013. We earn more than half of our revenues from digital services and platforms. Not many creative industries can say that. Music helps drive social media trends and device sales. In fact, in 2012, the two top Google searches were music-related. Currently, 19 of the top 20 YouTube videos are music videos. And according to Twitter, seven of the top 10 Twitter accounts are held by artists.

What does this all tell us? Music is at the center of cultural and commercial phenomena. We are not stuck in the past but looking ahead at a promising, bright future teeming with new music options. Which is why we created, along with our online retailer partner NARM, WhyMusicMatters.com, a one-stop educational guide for digital music so fans can know where to get their favorite music in a variety of different ways. And we expect that this bright future will offer access to music in ways currently unimaginable but will perhaps seem commonplace a year from now.

Yes, piracy still continues to plague us and is a continuing threat to our business. But instead of looking to Congress for help, we are tuned in to the marketplace and actively seeking out voluntary partnerships with intermediaries like ISPs and advertisers to help curtail illegal downloading. Moving forward, we want to simplify music licensing to make it easier to develop music business models. We know that music models continue to evolve - access and listening models are becoming more prevalent and it's imperative we derive a fair market return for the music that is the foundation of those businesses. And as always, we'll continue to find new ways to promote the dynamic music marketplace.
— Mitch Glazier, senior executive vice president at the Recording Industry Association of America.
In typical Glazier fashion, those first two paragraphs are simply misdirection. Yes, of course music is important and a part of the cultural fabric. Duh. But notice that he's not actually concerned about ways to increase that through the better spreading of music, the ability to share and experience culture. No, he's solely focused on one thing: getting paid directly for each use of the song. And that's because the companies he represents -- the music labels -- were mostly built on that as a sole revenue stream. He's not talking about neat things like Kickstarter or Bandcamp that have allowed artists to "go direct" to fans, because that kind of stuff gets in the way.

It's good to see him committed to fixing licensing, because it's a massive problem, but I'll note that the RIAA was heavily involved in trying to block a bill last year that would have made music licensing more reasonable and affordable so that there would be new ways to distribute music legally.

Finally, the whole "voluntary" agreements thing is a bit of a red herring as well, as it seems as though the MPAA and RIAA are really focused on using these "voluntary" agreements to more or less get what they wanted in SOPA in the first place -- and that often means less due process and fewer fundamental rights and abilities for the public.
Protection of intellectual property and Internet freedom are critically important. The Chamber will work with members on both sides of the aisle to find an effective and commercially reasonable solution to address this ongoing problem.
— U.S. Chamber of Commerce spokeswoman
Not much to say on that, other than the US Chamber of Commerce was the leading lobbyist pushing for SOPA/PIPA last year. Their interpretation of "commercially reasonable solution" is highly suspect. Oh yeah, as is their interpretation of the "ongoing problem." The last time we looked, the US Chamber of Commerce was using flat-out bogus numbers and claims to support their description of "the problem." If you define "the problem" incorrectly, the "solution" is probably going to be an even bigger problem.
If you had asked me how I felt on January 18, 2012, about the prospects for protecting the creative work of artists and innovative businesses in the wake of the internet revolt against the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act, my response might have involved some muttering under my breath and a request for a stiff drink. In the coming week, many who seek to exploit the work of creators without their consent will be looking backwards and celebrating last year's defeat of those bills. So one might expect advocates for artists and creators to be in a dour mood again, but there is ample cause for optimism among members of the creative community...

At least some of the goals of the legislation have been achieved through increased private and government action since the introduction of the first version of the bills in 2010:
  • More credit card companies are engaging in best practices. In June 2011, major credit card companies and online payment processors (American Express, Discover, MasterCard, PayPal and Visa) reached an agreement on voluntary best practices to reduce sales of counterfeit and pirated goods by cutting off sites that distribute infringing goods from conducting financial transactions through these processors.
  • More advertisers are engaging in best practices. On May 3, 2012, the Association of National Advertisers and the American Association of Advertising Agencies issued a statement of best practices to address online piracy and counterfeiting.
  • Internet service providers, movie studios and record labels are collaborating on a Copyright Alert System. Under this system ISPs have agreed to notify users when their accounts appear to be used for illegal downloading activity and to impose real consequences on users who refuse to stop after receiving multiple notices.
  • Google finally started considering whether sites are rogue websites when doing search rankings. In August 2012, Google announced a change in its search algorithm that takes into account the number of "valid copyright removal notices" when determining the ranking of search results. In its announcement, Google indicated the goal was to help its users find legitimate sources of content more easily...
As more artists and creators stand with their peers and highlight what is really happening on the Internet, more people will listen and think twice. If there is a silver lining to the blackout, it has been the people who we have met this year: artists, reformed 'pirates' academics and lawmakers who want to begin meaningful conversations about promoting creativity and ensuring it finds a place in all of our lives.
— Sandra Aistars, executive director of the Copyright Alliance
This picks up on Mitch Glazier and Senator Leahy's comments on "voluntary" solutions and shows something important. Note that all of those bullet points in the "voluntary" category are the kinds of things that SOPA/PIPA sought to make mandatory. As incredibly vital as the fight against SOPA/PIPA was last year, it's also important to see that the industry (sometimes with government help) has continued to browbeat companies into more or less implementing the rules anyway. When those "voluntary" rules conflict with individual freedoms -- as is the case with certain gatekeepers (e.g., limited number of payment processors) -- we should be worried.

All in all, these comments show a consistent pattern. SOPA and PIPA might not come back as new legislation... but the issues are still very much with us. Those in power still don't understand the core issues, believing it's a commercial dispute between two mis-defined industries, while the focus on "voluntary" solutions seems to be attacking individual rights without people noticing.

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Jan 2013 @ 12:06pm

    Re:

    Right...as if Hollywood has never lobbied for changes to protect their business.

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